On COVID-19 list, Alex Mack may have played final game with Falcons

If this is in fact his final season with the Falcons, Alex Mack will not have the opportunity to play one last game.

Having missed Sunday’s loss to the Kansas City Chiefs because of a concussion, Mack is now on the reserve/COVID-19 list for the final week of the regular season. Given the timing of his placement, Mack will not be able to play in the Falcons’ season finale Sunday at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

With the season soon coming to a close, the five-year, $45 million contract Mack signed in 2016 will expire. It remains to be seen whether the Falcons, who are searching for a new coach and general manager, will offer Mack a new contract. It’s worth noting that the previous regime drafted Matt Hennessy to be the long-term replacement at center in the third round of the 2020 draft. It’s also possible that Mack decides to retire after a 12-year career that saw him reach six Pro Bowls and three second-team All-Pro selections.

Initially scheduled to speak with reporters Thursday, Mack was not made available after he was moved to the COVID-19 list. Quarterback Matt Ryan said Mack has offered great stability at the center position since his arrival in 2016.

“He’s meant a ton,” Ryan said. “He is an awesome teammate; he gives you everything he’s got. Mentally, physically, emotionally, every ounce of what he has he’s given to our team week in and week out. He’s a good friend, a really good person. I’ve been lucky to have spent five years with him.”

When the Falcons signed Mack in 2016, he wasted no time talking up the franchise to other prospective free agents looking for a new team. Falcons interim coach Raheem Morris remembered when Mack signed his contract at Falcons headquarters, which coincided with the day the coaching staff hosted receiver Mohamed Sanu for a visit.

Mack, having been familiar with then-offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan when the two worked together with the Cleveland Browns, told Sanu how good the offense could be under his guidance. Morris believes those words ultimately helped the Falcons land Sanu, who proceeded to spend the next three and a half years with the franchise.

“We were walking through, it was myself and Kyle Shanahan, who had (worked with Mack) from Cleveland and knew exactly who he was and what he meant to that team and the leadership that he would bring to us,” Morris said. “He had already started the recruiting trail for other people in order to join our football team. He talked to Mohamed that day. He talked about how great it was to be able to come out there and go into a meeting and listen to Kyle Shanahan about what was going to happen and then go out there and it happen on a game day.”

And then there was Mack’s toughness, which was displayed on a weekly basis.

There was no greater example of this then what transpired in Super Bowl LI. Mack sustained a broken fibula during the 2016 NFC Championship Game win over the Green Bay Packers. With only two weeks of rest, Mack suited up and played the entire Super Bowl, a heartbreaking 34-28 overtime loss to the New England Patriots, with an otherwise painful injury.

“He went out and played in a Super Bowl while he had a broken leg,” Morris said. “He played a bunch of games for us and has thrown his body around and been just an all-around pro. He’s been a guy who’s been able to go out there and lead our O-line and lead those guys to be a really good unit and a lot of young players he’s been able to set great examples to for a long time.”

During this past offseason, Mack said he would play out the season and see how he felt about his future once it concluded. If Mack decides to keep playing, and the Falcons are unable to re-sign him, it’s likely another team in need of a center will welcome him with open arms.

Taken with the 21st overall selection in the 2009 NFL draft by the Browns, Mack started all 131 games he has appeared in, with 78 of those games as a member of the Falcons. Mack was named a team captain for both the 2019 and 2020 seasons.

“It goes by quickly. It feels like he just got here,” Ryan said. “I’ve really enjoyed it. He’s been such a rock for our organization at that position for a long time. We’ve been able to depend on him, and I’ve certainly been able to depend on him.”

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